Meet the Band // Tiffany Palmer, Background Vocalist
PN: How long have you been touring? What do you do musically when you’re not on the road?
Tiffany: I’ve been touring for about 19 years now. I’ve taken off about 5 or 6 years, especially when I had my daughter. I wanted to spend some time raising her and just focus on being a mom. Now that I’m back on the road, I am a working mother and I love it!!
When I’m not on the road I do a variety of recording sessions–everything from studio recordings, jingles, live albums, and live TV performances to off-camera work. I currently do quite a bit of off-camera (background) singing for the TV show GLEE, which has been a lot of fun.
Tell me about your experience on this tour? Any surprises?
This tour has been a tremendous experience for me, from working with the artist to the crew. It feels like a real family environment. I mean we are basically family when we’re away from our families at home. Everyone on this tour is a comedian, so there is never a dull moment, and I mean never! The thing I love about working with John is that he’s such a musical and creative genius—not to mention harmonizing with him is just pure bliss. The band is so ﬂexible and capable of doing anything that every night we can change things up. I respect the fact that John switches it up to keep the sound fresh and the vibe alive. Sometimes it’s even a surprise to us what’s coming next on stage. He’s good about sensing the need of the audience—what they’re in the mood for—and giving it to them. The performances are so free musically and it’s rare that you get an artist who opens up their platform to the band and singers to just go for it and express yourselves, even if you feel like doing something outside the box do it. It’s a limitless environment.
One of the biggest surprises I can remember was on my birthday when John burst out into the Happy Birthday song and the entire audience joined in. I wanted to burst into tears because it was quite a humbling and overwhelming experience. Being away from home on special occasions from time to time is something you learn to deal with but John, the band, our assistant tour manager, even the truck drivers, who tirelessly haul the stage stuff around, managed to make it special. Another huge surprise for me is that, while I’ve always known I had rhythm, I had no idea that I, along with my buddy Carlos, would become a percussion player on this tour. While I’m no Sheila E. (Laughs) I’ve learned that I can shake a mean shaker and tambourine, not to mention hit a cowbell like nobody’s business. So that’s been really exciting.
How did you get involved with this tour?
A wonderful friend of mine and well respected singer Lisa Fischer. She sings with the Rolling Stones and has worked with countless others, including Sting and Luther Vandross. Lisa called and asked me, “How familiar are you with John Mayer’s music?” I replied, “Are you kidding me? I have all his albums.” The rest was history.
What do you do to keep your voice strong through hundreds of performances–and multiple performances a week?
The main thing that keeps my voice healthy is staying properly hydrated. With all the different climates we go through in a short period of time, and the many planes we get on, water is the one constant that keeps me together. I try not to do any excessively loud talking before or after a show, but laughing is inevitable on this tour. As I mentioned before, everyone is just so darn funny. I also try and do vocal warm-ups when I can. My favorite exercise is lip trills which help to release tension of the speech musculature and also help to support breath control.
Is it tough working with a new artist for the first time? How do you learn the material?
I’ve been very fortunate with the artists I’ve had the pleasure of working with thus far so, I’m going to say no. If it’s my ﬁrst time working with an artist, I study them almost as if I’m conducting a research project. This includes listening to all of their material–CDs, live concerts, or any performances that someone may have posted on YouTube. I do that because sometimes the arrangements musically and vocally are different. In person, I can get a better gauge on the artist, especially in rehearsal, in terms of their personal style. For example, I can figure out whether they like to sing on top of or behind the beat, or whether they like to change things up or stick to the script. I always make sure that I remain ﬂexible and open to taking direction quickly in order to give exactly what’s needed.
What’s funny is that I can hear a melody once and remember it, but with lyrics I have to do something altogether different. Over the years I’ve discovered that I am a tactile learner, I must write the song out completely and then it sticks forever. Sometimes I don’t even have to refer to my notes once I’ve written it. It’s locked in my head.
I know you grew up with Carlos and have been close friends for a long time, any good stories about him, either from touring with him or before that?
Hmmm let me see. I have hundreds of stories but I suppose I should narrow it down, huh? Well when I ﬁrst met Carlos, we were kids and he was part of a singing duo. One day they invited me to join them for a performance. I did, but I noticed that I got all of the small parts because the other young lady was kind of the leader. While performing at a church fashion show I opened my mouth to sing, but she came in and took over. So after one more performance together, he and I just decided that since we got along so well, and all we wanted to do was laugh and act silly, that perhaps WE should be a duo and that he should bow out of his current situation. Plus I’d get more parts to sing. (Laughs) Well that didn’t go over so well with everyone but he and I have been singing together ever since. I can remember us writing songs on his 4-track at 14 and 15 years old and believe it or not–I know they’re extinct but–we both still have the cassette tapes of the recordings. What’s precious is that on those recordings you can hear how we are completely the same people today and have the same sense of humor. The only difference is that our voices are pitched up several octaves.
Follow Tiffany on Instagram: Tiff_Tiff_hooray